The outsized role of Super PACs


If President Obama manages to win re-election Tuesday, it could be in spite of the enormous amounts of money pumped into the race  by outside groups intent on defeating him. According to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, the top 5 outside conservative groups have spent $416 million to date – more than double the $183 million spent by the top five outside liberal groups.

Over $800 million has been spent by super PACs, 527’s and 501(c)(4)’s this cycle, with the lion’s share of it being used to support Governor Mitt Romney. On Monday’s show, Bill Burton, the head of the Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, discussed his group’s latest $30-million fall ad campaign. The same one that focused primarily on the Republican nominee’s tenure as CEO of Bain Capital.

Though heavily outgunned by its conservative rivals, the Obama super PAC embarked on a summer strategy, spending $20 million on swing state airwaves early on to paint Romney as an uncaring CEO who routinely fired middle-class workers and closed down plants in an endless drive for greater profits.

The goal was to turn Governor Romney’s greatest asset – his business experience – into his greatest weakness. “Because voters at this point don’t know much about Romney, every dollar we spend now is worth more, exponentially,” Burton told The New York Times Magazine’s Robert Draper at the time.

One ad that was particularly effective was entitled “Stage.” Released over the summer and currently re-airing in several battleground states, it features an Indiana man saying he and his co-workers were ordered to build a stage that executives later used to announce their firing after Bain Capital took over the business. Burton claimed on Monday’s show that a nonpartisan analysis of 2012 campaign ads had revealed it to be the “most effective ad of the cycle.”

Asked why Governor Romney had not responded more forcefully to the early onslaught, Burton didn’t have an answer.

“It’s one of the biggest surprises of this entire election to me, that Mitt Romney knew that this was coming, knew that no matter what,  people were going to be talking about his business record and never had a positive story to tell about it the entire election,” Burton said.

New York Times Magazine editor Hugo Lindgren agreed. “His [Romney’s] overall message on the economy was very muddled and basically came down to ‘trust me, I know about creating jobs,’” he said.

Burton admitted that while Democrats had tried to fight fire with fire this cycle, in a perfect world he’d want to see an end to the massive amounts of money in politics.

“I still hope that super PACs don’t exist,” he said. “That’s the Democratic position.”

The outsized role of Super PACs